SHOW AND TELL #1: Michael Pattison


Michael Pattison is a member of the Alchemy Programme team. He’s a film critic from Gateshead who has written for Sight & Sound, MUBI and Reverse Shot, and a programming consultant for several international film festivals. In September 2016, he began a practice-based PhD at Newcastle University, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which encompasses filmmaking and creative writing in response to urban space.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The butterflies before a first kiss – and their disappearance after.

What lies at the heart of your own desire to make films?
The interconnectedness of things: mapping one reality against another.

What are the first things you do in developing a film idea in response to a subject?

What’s your favourite film and why?
In the specific context of experimental films, James Benning’s Deseret (1995): an arrangement of landscapes dictated by the rhythms of journalistic prose. A history of a single geographical territory as told through the shifting styles and interests of the New York Times.

Choose 1, 2 or 3 of your all-time favourite music tracks.
Timeless by Goldie
Imhotep by Noah23
Zerthis Was a Shivering Human Image by Eluvium

From your favourite poem – could you give us a few lines that mean something to you?
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet black bough.

If you were to die and come back as a person, animal or a thing, what would it be?
Lichen on a road sign in Oxford.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I spend more than anybody ought to on trainers.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
I like it when someone’s communism isn’t obvious and then all of a sudden it is.

What is your final word?


1. Ruins Rider
Pierre-Luc Vaillancourt (2016, Canada) UK Premiere

Daily installation, 10am – 6pm: Ballroom, Crown Buildings, 20-22 High Street

A series of Montenegrin ruins is investigated with a physically roaming camera across 49 minutes of screen-time… A simple enough premise, but the imagery here is optically transformed by a constant, negativised flicker, which repurposes each landscape into an incomplete, unstable force. Its energies are best experienced as a relentless sensory bombardment: in the dark. Come for a jolt, stay for the gradual emotional wallop.

2. Mnemosyne
Louise S. Milne (2017, Scotland) World Premiere

Rhythms Crackle programme, Sunday 5 March, 11.30am: Main Auditorium, Heart of Hawick (Tower Mill)

An elusive and allusive tapestry of otherwise disparate images (an empty country lane, a staircase, tiled textures), whose loose structure seems to be informed by an invigorating sonic layering of the alphabet, which gives the whole thing a tone that is both childlike and eerie. Strange, and excellent.
3. Spazio-Tempo: Prelude
Roberto D’Alessandro (2016, Italy) UK Premiere

Nature Spirits programme, Sunday 5 March, 4pm: Main Auditorium, Heart of Hawick (Tower Mill)

An impressively conceived landscape film in which the subject (a rural setting) and the form (digitally textured imagery) are in perfect sync with one another. This five-minute short fully utilises the cinematic medium, a means of recording space across time, to reconfigure landscape. I love the way the skies begin to collapse into the earth, the way the image constantly renews itself after deteriorating, with a kind of glitch-heavy impressionism: glitchpressionism?

4. Swarm Circulation
Yeonu Ju (2017, South Korea) World Premiere

Mediating the Machine programme, Daily (various times) in Screening Room, Heart of Hawick (Tower Mill)

There’s an excellent and invigorating progression in the images here, combined with a strong thematic through-line to do with ‘e-waste’, which proves deeply stimulating across a twelve-minute runtime. Yeonu Ju’s editorial rhythms are very persistent and compelling: her constant juxtapositions force meanings and parallels but, through the sheer energy of the thing, her work is also elusive and ambiguous. And the music is lovely, too.

5. 38 River Road
Josh Weissbach (2016, USA & Switzerland) Scottish Premiere

It’s My (Private) Life programme, Saturday 4 March, 10am: Main Auditorium, Heart of Hawick (Tower Mill)

This is just the kind of suggestive film that sends me on an excited search for some real-life confirmation of a dreadful family secret. It’s dynamically structured, around a series of passive-aggressive phone calls that seem to completely contradict the cosy environs depicted on-screen, and the analogue texture of the footage builds on a cinematic tradition of eerie, disembodied home movies; whose quaint character seems to also have a built-in ghostliness, even a schizophrenia, which the threatening tone of the voice messages only emphasises. A kind of anti-thriller built from unspoken threats.

6. Catalogue Vols. 2, 3, 4 and 6
Dana Berman Duff (2015-17, USA & Germany) World/European Premiere

Vol. 6 screens in It’s My (Private) Life programme, Saturday 4 March, 10am: Main Auditorium, Heart of Hawick (Tower Mill)
Vols. 2, 3, 4 screen in The Social Script programme, Daily (various times) in Screening Room, Heart of Hawick (Tower Mill)

Four standalone shorts that also take meaning from one another in an ongoing series themed around furniture. Don’t let the subject put you off, however: it’s a testament to Dana Berman Duff’s strengths as a filmmaker that she’s able to glean a disquieting sense of noir-ish dread from something as mundane as the pages of a commercial catalogue. At its best, the Catalogue series intervenes upon the itemised nature of the choice we have in our domestic lives, by indexing pages from a catalogue, dissolving between them so that any dramatic difference in the images and textures is subdued. I love the subtle emphasis, in Vol. 2, upon found distortions: the crease of a magazine, which obliterates any sense of pictorial harmony when an onscreen image spans more than one catalogue page, invoking an eerie disconnect when accompanied by an urban soundtrack. In Vol. 4, Duff effectively approximates the in-out, on-off experience of a flashbulb, cannily frustrating our attempt to linger on these images and their textures, not revealing itself, or hinting at its origins, until a late but subtle ‘reveal’. Vol. 6 – screening at Alchemy as a World Premiere – might be the best entry in the series so far. We hear: “Inch by inch, I’m disappearing in this house.” Quite: a few initials, marking furniture and other consumerist items, suggest a clinical index of a crime scene rather than a commercial catalogue. Playful, original, haunting: I love it.

7. Home
Pieter Geenan (2017, Belgium) World Premiere

Screens in: It’s My (Private) Life programme, Saturday 4 March, 10am: Main Auditorium, Heart of Hawick (Tower Mill)

Another World Premiere for Alchemy. I love the film’s unwavering pace, the zoom-out and then the single pan, from the minute details of a painting (both its texture and the extreme pixellation of the filmmaker’s own camera) to the interior and layout of a room inside the Belgian Club in Delhi, Canada. But the camera is also moving physically through a spatial z-axis here, so that when we finally come ‘full circle’ it can be somewhat startling to see how far we’ve strayed from the opening painting. The painting has become something less significant, only one feature of many. A bit like the effect of returning home as a sea-changed traveller.